Discover more from Steady Beats | Matt Tillotson
Make the hobby remarkable
I’m Matt, and welcome to Steady Beats. If you like to walk for a better life, and also like Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life,” you just might like this newsletter.
The thing about writing that you might do something is that, probably, you need to do that thing.
So I did.
And 98% of you won’t have a shred of interest in it, and I totally understand.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Cal Newport’s framework for making a hobby remarkable, threatening to do this with my college football fandom by starting a Substack for it.
Unfortunately, a few of you were very supportive. Terri Lonier even named the newsletter before it existed.
Well, now Spartan Sidelines exists.
It will largely be about college sports, Michigan State specifically, with some baseball likely sprinkled in. And again, most of you couldn’t care less and that’s great.
But I will say this: try stuff. Don’t just consume. Create.
That’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t promise any posting schedule. I’ll write for this new Substack when I write it.
So the first post follows below. And please know I won’t cross-post here in the future. Different newsletters, different purposes.
But if you enjoy the piece, maybe you’ll join us over there, also. Thanks for putting up with my whims and experiments.
Michigan State at Iowa: The Pain Intensifies
If you’re a Spartan fan, the 2023 college football season seems engineered to inflict maximum pain on you.
Before you can even sift through the smoldering ruins of what’s happening on the field, you’ve already dealt with:
The starting quarterback pulling up roots in April and bolting for Auburn. Although many -- me included -- weren’t sweating his exit, MSU probably beats Maryland and Iowa if Payton Thorne is at quarterback. Instead, he’s eking out losses to Georgia and the Spartans he left behind can’t score.
MSU’s best offensive player, Keon Coleman, bolted for Florida State, in part because the Seminoles have demonstrated competency in completing downfield passes. It was the right move; Coleman has snagged 6 TD passes already, the same number of total touchdown passes MSU has this year.
The whole Mel Tucker fiasco, which seems liklye to drag on in court and provide negative headlines for months.
The University of Michigan is 5-0 after trucking Nebraska on the road. Seemingly, only James Franklin stands between the Wolverines and another B1G title. How are you feeling about Franklin’s odds? Yeah, same.
The decommitment of two recruits from an already thin class. This will get worse.
The SD4L NIL program canceling contracts on players the night before a road game.
How do you like me so far?
And then, there’s the carnival taking place on the field. In its most recent incarnation, another winnable game degraded into a loss in Iowa City.
Michigan State had every right to beat Iowa. Give the players credit. Despite all the BS going on around them, despite injuries once again decimating an underrecruited defensive front, the Spartans played square against Iowa. The MSU defense stuffed Iowa’s running attack and tackled well, save for Iowa tight end Eric Alt somehow slipping through several defenders on his way to the end zone in the second quarter.
On offense, Jay Johnson called a solid first half. Short, underneath throws kept the chains moving, complemented by a rushing attack that was getting over 5 yards a play when Nathan Carter carried the ball.
10-9 Iowa at the half. MSU was getting the ball to start the second half and feeling good.
But the coaches couldn’t stand the prosperity.
Inexplicably, a drive-killing reverse was called. Iowa, which hasn’t bit on a reverse since Jimmy Carter was president, blew it up in the backfield.
And you know the precise moment you could feel the wheels start to come off, thanks to another terrible coaching decision.
In the third quarter, MSU faced a fourth-and-one from its own 29. Iowa had not moved the ball well all day. Obviously, you punt and play field position.
Harlon Barnett went for it.
Maybe Harlon’s been watching Dan Campbell too much. Maybe he let his desire to get a win usurp his better judgement. But Barnett’s awful choice was smashed by a bunched-up Iowa defense which stymied Noah Kim’s keeper attempt. Soon, Iowa chipped in a free field goal to trail by just three.
From there, parts of the operation began flying off and careening down the highway.
MSU inevitably and finally went into the ditch with Iowa’s fourth-quarter punt return for a touchdown. But you already knew it was coming. Those old Spartan ways, the ones where the team can’t possibly find a way to lose but still do, raised their heads again.
The ghosts of Bobby Williams and John L. Smith, long exorcized by Mark Dantonio, have returned to haunt the Spartan sidelines.
The Spartan program is a zombie right now. That doesn’t mean players aren’t playing hard. They are. That doesn’t mean the coaches aren’t dialed in and want to win.
But what we see now, and will see ahead as the rest of this season descends into the 7th circle of hell, will bear no resemblance to what we see next year. There will be roster turnover. It’s unlikely more than one or two coaches will be part of the next staff. The schemes, the goals, the process, the culture of the program, all will be transformed 12 months from now.
And thank God for that.
As a fan, I don’t blame you if you tune out and await the MSU-Duke men’s basketball tip on the evening of November 14. But maybe you’re a sicko like me, with decades of this ingrained habit of staying invested and following even the worst seasons right down the tubes into the gutter.
It’s time to alter our viewpoint.
Don’t expect victory. We’ll be lucky to see one or two the rest of the way, even though MSU has outgained its last two opponents. Root for individual players, who deserve support through this nuclear meltdown that is not of their doing. Root for growth. Root for young guys to get chances and have success and stay in the program.
Root for guys like quarterback Katin Houser, who must be given a chance after the bye. The offense has eight turnovers and one touchdown in the last two games. Noah Kim is a great person by all accounts. But his performance in the last two games has been Andrew Maxwellian; he’s skittish, he runs from ghosts in a clean pocket, he’s often inaccurate, and he’s scared to throw interceptions, but does it anyway.
Houser is highly touted. A chance may be all he needs to stay in the program, and even give this offense a spark.
Understand the good stuff for this football program is now well over the horizon, where we can’t see it, led by a new coach and staff who will need to undertake a total rebuild to fix the mess Mel Tucker left in his scandalous wake.
On the other hand, we only get about a dozen of these games each year. The Spartans are still your team. There are still aspects worth watching while we wait for better days.
Even in a rough year, there are worse ways to spend a few hours on a fall Saturday.
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Thank you for reading.
Let’s keep the Steady Beats going. 💚
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